Backsliding on Bluefin Ban: Restaurants and Diners Step Up While Governments Argue
It’s highly prized and highly endangered:Greenpeace and WWF estimate that tuna stocks have declined by more than two-thirds over the past 50 years and are close to collapse. Yet a planned announcement of the EU’s position on banning Atlantic bluefin tuna fishing was postponed this past week as the Commission’s departments remained sharply divided. Divisions are also visible in France: President Sarkozy is on record last year as supporting a ban on bluefin fishing, but he has not reiterated his position and it was recently contradicted by his fisheries minister. In the past, temporary bans on bluefin fishing have been blocked by bluefin fishing nations, including Spain, Malta, Greece and France. In November the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICATT) cut the 2010 allowable quota to be caught by one-third, but environmental groups have been adamant that that is insufficient.
EU member states have been debating a temporary ban on bluefin fishing in the Mediterranean to allow stocks to recover; a ban has been strenuously opposed by representatives of the fishing industry. Bluefin is especially prized and popular in Japan, which consumes some 80% of the Atlantic bluefin catch, mostly in sushi; it is known as maguro or toro. This month a 513 pound bluefin tuna sold at auction in Tokyo for $177,000.
While national governments and the U.N. have been inconsistent and slow to address the fisheries collapse crisis, there are other channels for saving fish stocks: restaurants and the individual consumer. According to the Seafood Choices Alliance, 50 percent of seafood in the United States and Europe is eaten in restaurants, which makes eateries a prime target for introducing more sustainable eating behavior. In a recent heartening move, the luxury hotel network Relais et Chateaux has obtained an agreement from 60% of its members–475 European, Japanese and US chefs in 57 countries–to stop serving bluefin tuna. In the video below from 2007, a British restaurant owner explains why she does not serve bluefin in her sushi restaurant:
While governments argue, it is within the power of the consumer to influence more sustainable choices. For those in the Care2 community who are not vegetarian, becoming more vocal and informed about the fish you eat will go a long way to saving the oceans. The Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program is a very useful and reliable database of which fish can or should not be consumed. Download their useful guide to eating seafood here.
In restaurants, we can ask where the fish is from and how it was caught. Making informed choices, and letting restaurants hear our concerns, is another small step to saving the rich, diverse beauty of the oceans.
Can we just say no to bluefin tuna?
Photo: Jose Cort, NOAA's Fisheries collection via CC license